Tough debut for ex-Leaf
Joe Lundrigan, who faced the French Connection in his first NHL game, disappointed he will miss Hockey Day in Canada for medical appointment
It only took three seconds for Joe Lundrigan to be officially introduced to the National Hockey League.
Lundrigan, a 69-year-old Corner Brook native, has the distinction of being the first city native to play in the National Hockey League.
Lundrigan played his first of 49 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1972-73 NHL campaign.
The Leafs were playing the Buffalo Sabres on that night so the French Connection — a nickname put on a forward line consisting of Hall of Famer Gilbert Perrault at centre and all-stars Rick Martin and Rene Robert, on the wings — were in the building.
Late in the game, with the Leafs two-men shorthanded, Leafs coach John McLellan gave Lundrigan his first shift.
Lundrigan looked up and stared at the French Connection with a faceoff deep in the Leafs zone.
Perrault won the face-off, blew by Lundrigan, and banged it in the net before he could blink.
“You always remember something like that,” Lundrigan said with a hearty chuckle earlier this week from his home in Shubenacadie, N. S.
Lundrigan played his minor hockey in Corner Brook and he played a number of years in the provincial senior hockey league with a number of teams before he opted to play university hockey on the mainland.
A friend of his during his university hockey days put Lundrigan’s name on the radar with the coach of the Tulsa Oilers and he eventually got an invite to training camp.
He broke into the pro ranks with the Oilers in the Central Hockey league in 1971 where he collected three goals and 34 assists in 67 games.
The following year he was in the show with the Leafs, where he played 49 games, finishing up with two goals and seven assists.
His NHL career would include 10 games with the Washington Capitals during the 1974-75 season where he was held pointless.
Lundrigan had to deal with injuries that didn’t help prolong his career and he found out hockey was business as undrafted players like himself were often pushed by the wayside by guys who came into the system with a contract in hand.
“It’s too bad things didn’t work out and I played a bit longer, but that’s life and you move on and do what you have to do,” he said.
Lundrigan, one of only three players from Corner Brook to play in the NHL, was invited back home to celebrate in the 2018 Scotibank Hockey Day in Canada Jan. 17-20 in Corner Brook, but unfortunately he won’t be able to come across the Gulf because he has an appointment with his retinologist for his macular degeneration on Jan. 19 in Halifax and he can’t miss it.
“It’s still the same, but I could wake up any day and it’s gone that’s the way it works,” he said of his challenging condition.
Lundrigan is proud of the fact he was one of the few to have the opportunity to play the game in the best hockey league on the planet and he appreciates all the good that come from his involvement in the game both when he was playing and years later as he reflects on the journey.
“I am disappointed because I was looking forward to seeing some old and familiar faces for sure,” he said.
He appreciates getting an invite from the host committee and would have been gung-ho if it was anything but his health keeping him from sharing in the celebration of the game from coast to coast.
Joe Lundrigan is seen here wearing his Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni jacket. Lundrigan was hoping to come home to Corner Brook for Hockey Day in Canada but he won’t be able to return because he has an eye appointment with his retinologist on June 19 in Halifax.